Archives for category: Central government

As our first public event, Extinction Rebellion West Midlands will be holding a talk entitled: ‘Heading for extinction and what to do about it’.

The talk will outline the issues surrounding climate change and biodiversity loss, and how we can use our feelings of despair constructively to overwrite the cycle of ignorance and inactivity present in the policy making sphere.

George Monbiot encourages elders to stand in solidarity with the youth climate strikes:

By combining your determination and our experience, we can build a movement big enough to overthrow the life-denying system that has brought us to the brink of disaster – and beyond. Together, we must demand a different way, a life-giving system that defends the natural world on which we all depend. A system that honours you, our children, and values equally the lives of those who are not born.

Together, we will build a movement that must – and will – become irresistible”.

For more info on Extinction Rebellion: https://rebellion.earth/

At the event you will be able to find out more about our movement and the activities we have planned

Voluntary contributions are gratefully accepted on the door to help cover room hire costs.

Like us on facebook to keep updated with local activity: https://www.facebook.com/extinctionrebellionbirmingham/

 

 

 

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Why aren’t we, the electorate, consulted about the whole Council Budget, not just the proposed cuts?

 

 A recent BATC article asked this question and continued:

“The Council’s Budget Consultation is not a consultation about the whole Budget, only about the Council’s planned cuts. On 19 December the Council held a public Budget Consultation meeting.  But it was a rigged consultation because we weren’t given the full Budget plans, only the proposals for the cuts that the Council leadership wants to make.

“The cuts the Council has decided on amount to £50 million this year. But the Council’s total Controllable Expenditure is £1.1billion. The planned savings amount to just 4.5% of the total Council Budget.

  • Where are the plans for the remaining 95.5%? There isn’t a word about them in the consultation document.
  • Why are they kept secret and not spelled out in the report?

“(Of course the Council will say they aren’t secret, they are published somewhere – but this is meaningless if they don’t say where to find them.)”

Smoke and mirrors? 

In 2011, the late Alan Clawley, a tenacious scrutineer, spent several days poring over the 166-page Budget Book and saw that public services were indeed being cut – as publicised – but that civic spending was actually set to increase. 

He was so surprised by this finding that he emailed the council to check the figures, thinking that he must have made a mistake. He referred to these findings in the Birmingham Press after setting them out in great detail at a WM New Economics Group meeting, adding his proposals for an alternative budget. He continued: 

“When I looked at the overall cost of running the Council I saw that it is to INCREASE by £14 million, i.e. from £3,513 million in 2010/11 to £3,527 million in 2011/12.  

“To arrive at this bottom line the council has made CUTS of £149 million but INCREASES of £164 million, which includes £14 million extra for the Leader’s budget.  

“I can’t see where the much-publicised cut of £212 million comes from.  

“The CAPITAL BUDGET has been reduced by £16 million but this consists of a £95 million CUT and a £79 million INCREASE on projects such as the Library of Birmingham, Harborne Pool, Sparkhill Pool, Alexander Stadium, Safety works to parks Highways Maintenance, Big City Plan, High Speed 2, New Street Gateway, Eastside, and Icknield Port Loop”.

The council’s tables were published in an article with the relevant facts highlighted and  Alan Clawley ended by asking:

“How can we (non-experts) know if Birmingham City Council is telling us the truth when it says that the government is forcing it to cut the cost of services by over £200 million next year?  

“How many of us will study the 166-page Budget Book or by spend time scrutinising even the simplified version of the accounts that come with the Council Tax bill”.

 

Fast forward to 2019

The BATC article continues: ”The Council leadership says ‘The purpose of this consultation is… to invite the public and partners to consider these savings proposals, provide feedback and, if they wish, make alternative suggestions’ .” (Report to Cabinet 13 November).  

“But how can we make alternative suggestions if we aren’t given the full picture? 

“The Council Budget Equality Impact Assessment document says explicitly that the cuts they propose will hit the poorest and most vulnerable hardest. Here’s just one shocking statistic: more than 2 in 5 children in Birmingham live in poverty. 

“There must be savings that can be made out of the 92% of the hidden budget that will cause less damage to these children and their families than the cuts the Council leadership plans”.

The writer asks if the councillors really believe that if the Council leadership consulted on the whole 100% of the Budget, not just its selected four and a half percent, the citizens of Birmingham would say they want to cut:

  • Travel Assist for pupils in need,
  • school crossing patrols,
  • half the libraries’ books budget,
  • the Legal Entitlement & Advice Service accessed by some of the most vulnerable people of Birmingham,
  • privatise or close Council day nurseries
  • the hours of low paid Home Care workers
  • and other damaging cuts in the proposed Budget.

“That is one reason why it is a token consultation. But there is another. The introduction to the Budget Consultation 2019+ November 2018 by Councillors Ian Ward and Brigid Jones says “We know that the decisions laid out in this document will affect many of your lives, which is why it is so important for us to hear from you, and that you take the time to talk to us.”  The Report to Cabinet (13 November) says “Comments from the public will be invited at face-to-face meetings with the public….” Note it says “meetings” plural. And yet they arranged just one solitary consultation meeting. A leaflet given out at the meeting from BATC, Save Our Nurseries and Birmingham Keep Our NHS Public says:

  1. We call for open local meetings to be set up across the city by the Council, to which ordinary citizens, community and campaigning groups are invited to participate.
  2. They would have the aim of drawing up a charter of service needs, campaigning for Birmingham’s money to be returned and developing a vision for a new people’s city, a new Birmingham.

These meetings could be the catalyst for a mass campaign, led by the Council, against the Government austerity policies which are the cause of the relentless cuts in the Council’s budgets. 

2011 https://politicalcleanup.wordpress.com/2011/07/23/newspaper-headlines-shouted-council-cuts-but-what-actually-happened

2019 https://birminghamagainstthecuts.wordpress.com/2019/01/01/why-arent-we-consulted-about-the-whole-council-budget-not-just-the-proposed-cuts/#more-10301

 

 

 

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On December 29th, Philip Aldrick Economics Editor of The Times (right), wrote: “This winter has been the worst for rough sleeping in memory. In central London, the tattered sleeping bags and cardboard mattresses that serve as beds are too often found in an underpass or crammed beneath an overhang. My children have started asking: ‘Why?’ “

He comments: “It is no accident. Government policy has made the situation worse. Not deliberately, mind you”.

  • Official figures from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government showed a 15% increase in those camping on England’s streets last year.
  • The single night count has risen from 1,768 in 2010 to 4,751. Of those, 1,137 were in London.
  • The charity Shelter estimates that 320,000 people are homeless in Britain today, 13,000 more than last year, once temporary accommodation is included.
  • That’s one in every 200 Britons.
  • Since 2011, there has been a steep increase in the number of people registering as homeless after being evicted for failing to pay rent.
  • On top of that are the “hidden homeless” living in sheds, cars or on a friend’s sofa.
  • homeless deaths in England and Wales. In 2017, there were 597, a 24% increase since 2013.
  • London and the North West were the worst affected, with 136 and 119, respectively.

To trace the roots of the crisis he went back to the right-to-buy revolution

In 1980 councils were still building 67,450 homes a year across the UK. The country had an estimated 500,000 more homes than it needed because the state had overbuilt. Margaret Thatcher therefore decided to withdraw the state as far as possible and successive governments persisted with the policy and the housing surplus turned into a deficit.

The decision to end council housing drove poorer people into private rented accommodation, where housing benefit soared to levels the state could no longer afford.

The government says England alone now needs 300,000 homes a year. Herriot-Watt University estimates that 145,000 must be affordable and 90,000 specifically for social rent to replace those lost in the 1980s.

The focus shifted to the private sector with a duty to build profitable homes, which tend to be higher value — not the ones most needed.

Competition for homes drove up prices and rents. By 2012, housing benefit claimants in the private rented sector more than doubled to 1.6 million. Rents rose faster than earnings, pushing more on to welfare. Housing benefit had risen from 0.8% of GDP in 1983 to 1% in the early 2000s and to over 1.5% in 2012, costing government an additional £10 billion more every year for housing claimants alone.

But, to date, private housebuilders, catering for the affluent, have failed to deliver the social homes needed.

The coalition government changed empty dwelling management orders under which councils could seize properties left unoccupied for more than six months – that was extended to a period of two years.

There are now an estimated 200,000 long-term empty homes in the UK – almost 20,000 of them in London

Aldrick believes that government’s decision – ‘finally’ – to give councils the resources to build again, addresses the core problem. He points out that in the long term, council housing is cheaper for the taxpayer than private rents and more secure for tenants. It also offers cash-strapped councils  the prospect of steady rental revenues to help fund services (see a Sheffield case study).

Until councils have built enough homes, Aldrick suggests a practical interim measure: government could return the empty dwelling rules back to six months in order to make more homes available.

 

 

 

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Though the NHS’s funding formula is designed to provide more money to the neediest areas, an FT article reported last week that – according to data analysed by the Nuffield Trust for the Financial Times – some poorer communities being “left behind” when accessing GP services.

Sarah Neville, Global Pharmaceuticals Editor, summarising the data, reports that rich and poor people in England receive different standards of care from the UK’s universal free health service.

Despite the higher burden of ill health in lower socio-economic groups, there are markedly fewer GPs per head in poorer areas of England than in richer areas. More details are given here.

Market Place, Tipton

National Health Service Sandwell residents feel health concerns go unheeded. The FT reports that data from the Sandwell and West Birmingham clinical commissioning group (CCG), which holds the budget for treating the local population, shows that 45.6% reported seeing their preferred GP always or most of the time, compared with a national average of 54.9%. The percentage not able to get a GP appointment stood at 17.1, compared with 11.4% nationally.

Pam Jones, who used to chair Healthwatch, described a kind of vicious circle for local surgeries: “Because they haven’t got enough GPs, they have to employ locums. They employ locums and then it takes more money out of their practice.”

Andy Williams, who heads the Sandwell and West Birmingham clinical commissioning group as its accountable officer, acknowledged that, despite measures to make more GP appointments available, he still receives feedback complaining that it is difficult to get an appointment, “ . . . so we know we’ve got a lot more to do. But we’re taking a much, much more diverse and imaginative approach now”.

He said recruitment has become much harder in the past two years, as a new generation of medical school graduates no longer want to make a mortgage-sized commitment to buy an equity share in a practice to which they are then tied to financially for their working life.

Local GP Ray Sullivan who chairs the local medical committee of the British Medical Association, said he was struggling with a relentless increase in workload without an equivalent increase in funding. He still receives “£150 per patient to do everything” and adds: “That’s the same as I got ten years ago. And the burden of work has gone up incrementally every year since.”

The findings increase pressure on the NHS to outline measures to reduce health inequalities when it publishes its long-awaited spending plan next month.

 

 

 

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FRIDAY, DECEMBER 21st, 12noon – 2pm:

‘Reclaim the BBC’ protest vigil outside the Mailbox, Birmingham as a West Midlands Extinction Rebellion action to draw attention to the urgency of need for action on climate change.

Climate campaigners are calling on the BBC to declare a climate emergency and make the issue its top editorial priority.

Richard Bruce draws our attention to the truly remarkable the Swedish youngster in the video link below, adding that her message should be widely heard around the world! He comments’ “There is hope yet – if only those in positions of influence would listen and stop depending on the dishonest corporate science…. Brave girl…” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzeekxtyFOY&frags=pl%2Cwn

The Guardian reports that climate campaigners Extinction Rebellion (XR) came to prominence last month when they organised the largest civil disobedience protest seen in the UK for decades, culminating in the occupation and closure of five bridges in central London. The group launched at the end of October with a blockade of Parliament Square in London. Since then it has grown rapidly and XR branches have sprung up in more than 35 countries.

The rapid spread of XR comes as frustration rises with policymakers who are failing to slow perilous levels of global warming and biodiversity loss. There have been a flurry of reports on the scale of the climate crisis , including one from the UN which said there were only 12 years left to limit some of the most devastating impacts. Several cities in the UK, including London, have now declared a climate emergency.

XR is calling on the government to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025 and establish a “citizens assembly” to devise an emergency plan of action, similar to that seen during the second world war.

This month 100 prominent figures including the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the authors Philip Pullman and Naomi Klein backed XR: “We must collectively do whatever’s necessary non-violently, to persuade politicians and business leaders to relinquish their complacency and denial,” their open letter stated.

During a second wave of civil disobedience this weekend, thousands of people staged peaceful direct action protests in towns and cities around the UK.

The latest XR group to set up internationally was in New York, where activists announced plans at their first meeting this weekend for a US national day of action on 26 January. The group is planning an international week of rebellion in April.

 

 

 

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Community Energy Birmingham  co-operatives offer shares in order to fund the installation of solar photovoltaic arrays on community buildings in Moseley and Small Heath, Birmingham – see a 2015 post. 

Community Energy Birmingham (CEB) has some exciting news!

“We’re looking to grow our existing portfolio of renewable energy generation on community energy buildings in Birmingham, and have just launched a new share offer in November 2018. Our plan is to put a large solar roof (163 panels) on the housing association building in the centre of Castle Vale. This will be our largest solar roof to date, with a peak capacity of 50 kW. The total investment opportunity is around £44,000. We have already raised several thousand pounds”.

CEB aims to do this before the Feed in Tariff scheme closes in early 2019. CEB has already installed 6 solar PV on roofs belonging to community buildings where the organisations receive the benefit of clean and reduced cost electricity.

One example of its work is the installation of another 10 kilowatts of solar panels on the main roof of the Moseley Exchange building, joining the 8.5 kw on the sloping roof to the rear. The new panels cannot be seen, since they lie flat behind the parapet of this historic old Post Office building in the centre of Moseley. Since the building is in use almost every day, the solar energy will be consumed within the building, which is used by many Moseley community groups.

CEB ethical investors have been paid 4% this year on their shares 

Shares are from £250 to £10,000. CEB prefers investment from people living in or near Birmingham.  The new Share offer closes on 31 Dec 2018, but they would love to hear right away if you want to know more.

Email enquiry@communityenergybirmingham.coop

Full details are available in their Share Offer document and for those seeking shares, an Application Form may be filled out and returned.

 

 

 

 

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The Chancellor of the Exchequer recently announced that Warwick Manufacturing Group (University of Warwick) has been awarded £100m in Government funding for WMG’s work in the High Value Manufacturing Catapult.

It forms part of a £780 million announcement of which £270.9 million has been awarded to the West Midlands (to WMG and The Manufacturing Technology Centre, below) for their work in the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, and the Energy Systems Catapult in Birmingham.


The WMG centre’s HVM Catapult focuses on Low Emission Mobility, Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) and the supply chain. This is directly aligned to the Government’s ‘Road to Zero’ vision for the transport sector of zero emissions, zero accidents and zero congestion, underpinned by WMG’s digital manufacturing capability that drives improvement in productivity and competitiveness across sectors.

The Warwick press release reports that in their first five years the catapults have supported around 3,000 small businesses to develop and exploit new technologies. They operate more than £850m world-class facilities and are also training hundreds of apprentices and doctoral students. Last year 900 apprentices gained valuable practical experience with cutting-edge technologies used in modern manufacturing at HVM Catapult.

A more cautious account was given last November in The Register, by Andrew Orlowski. Citing a report by Ernst and Young’s Catapult Review Steering Group to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, he summarised some of its conclusions.


The catapult agencies (aka the government’s elite network of Catapult Centres), which are formally private sector “independent research and technology organisations”, hoover up public money via Innovate UK.

The UK government’s network of “Catapult” innovation and technology agencies fall under its R&D spending umbrella – show dubious value for money. Governance structures are unhelpful the report finds. Innovate UK – the operating name of the government’s Technology Strategy Board, is an arms’-length body that falls under the Department for Business. Innovate can’t sit on Catapult boards or recommend appointments because “There are private and public sector clashes e.g. when Catapults are asked to deliver for Government, report on performance, and comply with government accounting rules”.

Orlowski adds that the report suggests the manufacturing and biotech catapults have had a positive economic impact. But the others? Not so much. three of the seven catapults have been put in the Last Chance Saloon: the “Transport Systems”, “Future Cities” and “Digital”.

EY adds: “With the Catapult network’s overall lack of a clearly articulated set of objectives, or a framework for measuring impact, and the current level of operational performance, it is unlikely that the impact of the network overall has been significant so far. . . “

“The “Transport Systems”, “Future Cities” and “Digital” Catapults urgently need to draw up new plans to justify their existence: funding should be halted if they can’t “prove confidence” with a clear new plan”.

Dr Ian Campbell, Interim Executive Chair of Innovate UK, has a more positive view:

“In their first five years the catapults have supported around 3,000 small businesses to develop and exploit new technologies. They operate more than £850m world-class facilities and are also training hundreds of apprentices and doctoral students, such as at the High Value Manufacturing Catapult where in the last year 900 apprentices have gained invaluable practical experience with cutting-edge technologies used in modern manufacturing.”

 

 

 

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This Birmingham Socialist Discussion Group meeting has been called to discuss the state of the railway system in Britain today and the case for nationalisation.

7 pm Wednesday 24th October first floor room, the Wellington, 37 Bennetts Hill City Centre

The front pages of the mainstream press have recently described the chaos in the British railways. Right-wing newspapers who have always supported the privatisation of the railways are now reflecting the dramatic failures of this system.

The Times 20.9.18. “Rail failings exposed by chaos over timetables” In which it informed its readers that “Nobody took charge of May’s timetable overhaul leading to the cancellation of 800 services a day.”

The Daily Mail headline on the same day was “Off the Rails!”. It said “Passengers are routinely being failed and the timetable chaos highlighted systemic weakness, poor leadership and lack of accountability.”

Two railways Northern Rail and Govia Rail have particularly failed and according to the BBC, 200 out of Northern Rail’s 3800 services are not running and 310 out of Govia Rail’s 4700 are not functioning. Both have tried to break the resistance of RMT members opposing driver only trains.

Speakers

Ian Scott President Birmingham Trades Union Council

Pat Collins ex-member of the Executive Council RMT

Ian Scott will give a historical perspective, talking about the early history of the rail industry, the Beeching axing of a major part of the track in the 1960s and 1970s – vandalism mainly implemented by Labour governments. He will also relate the sorry story of the privatisation of the rail industry in the 1990s by the Major government with no attempt to reverse any of these changes by the new Blair government. He writes:

“One of the factors facing the railways & governments from the 1900’s to 1960’s was the failure to co-ordinate public transport services. Tramways & latterly ‘bus services in competition with railways left (mainly) branch lines in a state of decline pre war. The Second World War left Britain’s railways almost bankrupt with increasingly worn out rolling stock. Nationalisation saved them from collapse but only with loans from World Bank & taxpayers money to upgrade & modernise the rail system. Subsequent government policies (post 1948) led to one of cynical disinvestment, branches closed & unsurprisingly main lines suffered from loss of revenue. It was ideal for the Tory government of the 1950’s, whose minister Marples appointed Dr Beeching to carry out the deliberate destruction of the rail system to create the need for the motorcar.

The entry of Britain into the EU in 1974 led to many directives from the commission on our home-based industries & public services with its (EU) requirement to reduce public expenditures. The EU directive 91/440/EEC was for the breakup of a smaller (post Beeching) rail network, hence the situation we face today with a prospect of a Labour government taking back rail into public ownership 

Pat Collins, RMT local branch secretary will discuss the resistance of RMT members to the privatised rail companies. 

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To contact Birmingham Socialist Discussion Group, ring Pete 0780 9406973 or Stuart 0777 156 7496, ser14@btinternet.com    

 

 

 

West Midlands New Economics Group

Thursday 25th October 5-7 pm

Open meeting: FOE Warehouse, 54 Allison St, B5 5TH

A round table discussion

All welcome.

The Zero Waste Economy: Is it possible? 

Hazel Clawley shares with the group the main themes of Paul Connett’s book The Zero Waste Solution as an opening to a group discussion on reasons for the successes and failures of the international Zero Waste movement.

The aim is to steer the discussion away from the individualistic approach (what one dedicated ‘greenie’ can do to slim down her/his ‘residuals’ – the non-reusable, non-recyclable bin contents – admirable though these pioneers are), and towards ways in which whole communities are being drawn in to the ZW solution in some unlikely parts of the world e.g. Sicily.

A previous WMNEG session (by Jane Green) showed how the drive towards incineration in the West Midlands stymies the ZW approach here (as in so many places) – so is there any hope for a Zero Waste West Midlands? 

 

Contributions of £2 to cover the cost of room hire.

 

 

 

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Birmingham Against the Cuts

Open Planning Meeting on Wednesday 10 October at 7pm

at the Wellington, 37 Bennetts Hill, Birmingham B2 5SN

 

     Agenda 

  1. Attendance and apologies
  1. Notes of meeting of 19 September
  1. The campaign by BCC Home Care Workers in Unison against changes in contracts
  1. The campaign against the closure of 14 Council Day Nurseries
  1. The campaign against school funding cuts
  1. Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) update
  1. Library campaign update
  1. The local economy – including BCC’s ‘Municipal Socialism’ and ‘Local Wealth Building’ and the WMCA’s ‘Inclusive Growth’
  1. Local democracy – BCC’s plans for wards
  1. AOB
  1. Date and venue of next meeting

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PLEASE NOTE THAT AIDED DISABLED ACCESS TO OUR MEETINGS IN THE WELLINGTON CAN BE ARRANGED WITH ADVANCE NOTICE. PLEASE EMAIL RICHARD.HATCHER@BCU.AC.UK

 

See the Birmingham Against the Cuts website for regular news and analysis ahttps://birminghamagainstthecuts.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

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